Privatization, Segregation and Dispossession in Western Urban Space: An Antiracist, Marxist-Feminist Reading of David Harvey
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Within the shifting geography of capitalist imperialist power, the war on the home front has become a critical line of battle. Western urban centres are more than empty landscapes for the enactment of global agendas. They actively contribute to the international ascendancy of neoliberalism and the bodies of women and people of colour within them are the front line of economic, political, social and ideological marginalization. This paper takes up the intersectionality of race, gender and class relations as they are located within, and shaped by, urban processes in the West. Looking through the lens of David Harvey's theory of the production of capitalist urban space and its conceptual links with Marx's 'primitive' accumulation in his recent work on imperialism, I present an initial proposal on the material basis of gender and 'race' exploitation. I further explore how this interacts with more fully elaborated theories of class in the Marxist tradition, and how together they shape and are shaped by Western urban spaces and places. Harvey's work is important, not because it speaks directly or comprehensively to racialized or gendered divisions but because it is a highly detailed Marxist theorization of urban space. I do not take Harvey's ideas simply at face value, but 'rub them' together with theoretical and historical work on racialization, imperialism, urbanism and gender. Thus I make some necessary modifications to Harvey's propositions. It is my thesis that ongoing accumulation by dispossession as a second mode of accumulation that operates in a dialectical relationship to the system of commodity production, is the material basis of persistent racialized and gendered divisions in society as a whole and at the urban scale in particular. Accumulation by dispossession has been ideologically subordinated by capitalism as part of its triumphalist discourse of progress and freedom. But in actuality, it is the expression of patriarchal and racist imperialism within and alongside capitalism. Its ongoing coercive and violent appropriations, spatial segregation, and privatizations displace the costs of capitalist accumulation for accumulation's sake onto gendered and racialized bodies, separating them from the economic, political and social fruits of the capitalist system. My secondary argument suggests three distinct, sometimes conflicted, yet intertwined logics of power within modern society: capitalist logic, which rests primarily on the interests of capitalist producers; territorial logic, which expresses the imperative to command space at all scales; and corporeal logic, a patriarchal and racist, bio-political and carceral drive to control and socially construct gendered and racialized bodies. Finally, I propose that we take seriously the warnings of academics and activists who caution that the term 'neoliberalism' has become so broad and all encompassing that it is losing its incisiveness. As critical thinkers we need to analytically separate the processes of neoliberalism from neoracism, neopatriarchy, and neo imperialism. By applying an understanding of accumulation by dispossession as the ongoing basis of these latter configurations, and a renewed influence on capitalist commodity production, we can move past the polarized disciplinary landscapes of academic inquiry and segregated progressive politics that have resulted from a lack of precision in our analysis.